Kanazawa has slowly been climbing the ranks in the table of popular tourist destinations in Japan for some time now, and that’s no great surprise with it’s impressive roster of period town-houses, beautiful outdoor spaces and Edo-era teahouses. Read more about all of the above here.
It’s not all about tradition in Kanazawa though, there are a number of exciting places popping up to make your trip to the city more enjoyable, interactive and diverse. Some of these undeniably draw influence from the area’s long history and rich culture, others bring a whole new dynamic to this already incredibly interesting city.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
Perhaps the most famous of these due to heavy media attention in recent months is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, located just a few steps from Kenrokuen. It houses works from acclaimed contemporary artists from all over Japan and indeed the world. It has steadily positioned itself as one of Japan’s most popular art museums among both domestic and international visitors.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
The circular museum has a unique look and feel about it, distinguishing it from all other buildings in the city. It is fairly big at 112 meters in diameter and is largely made of glass, meaning it has lots of natural light and a nice airy feel. There is no official front, nor back, and no main entrance or reception area, meaning both the building and the artworks can be approached from all angles and directions - both physically and figuratively. The museum also includes a number of public spaces, lecture halls, workshops and a library. It is as much a place that encourages community gatherings as it is an art museum.
The circular glass building allows for lots of natural light
Interactive installations abound!
The museums main focus is on contemporary art produced in the past half-century, with a particular focus on installations and mixed-media pieces, it is playful, unpredictable and thought provoking. There are both permanent pieces and temporary exhibits from an array of artists and groups
Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich
Perhaps the most famous of piece is Leandro Erlich’s “Swimming Pool”, a large pool that visitors can step inside and appear to be underwater to those who view it from a separate space. Other popular pieces include James Turrell’s “Blue Planet Sky” and Olatur Eliasson’s “Colour Activity House”.
Just across the way from the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, close to Kanazawa Castle, sits Mamezarachaya - a modern café that pays homage to its traditional surroundings and offers spectacular views of the castle.
Mamezarachaya is simple yet stylish
The café is located right on the edge of the castle park
Their lunch sets allow you to try and mix of Japanese and Western sweets as well as sushi
The views of the castle are spectacular!
Mamezarachaya is a Japanese-style cafe inside the Tsurunomaru Rest House overlooking the backside of Kanazawa Castle and its park. The cafe was designed and constructed using wood from Noto Peninsula in the north of Ishikawa, known as Noto Hiba Cypress. They serve sushi lunch sets that come complete with Japanese “wagashi” sweets and also an assortment of cakes. This is also a great place to grab a coffee after you have explored the castle grounds.
TEA SALON "KISSA & Co."
While we are on the topic of tea and snacks in stylish setting’s we cannot fail to mention the excellent Kissa Tea Salon inside KUMU Kanazawa - THE SHARE HOTELS -. The contemporary design that comprises of bare concrete walls and stripped back wooden framework gives this place a stylish and hip edge over most others.
The stylish interior of the TEA SALON "KISSA & Co."
The TEA SALON "KISSA & Co."
The salon not only provides a great social space but also an interesting cultural experience as your tea is prepared at the counter in front of your eyes in a mesmerizing fashion. The staff take meticulous care to ensure your matcha is of the highest of quality, utilizing an assortment of locally made utensils that are laid out on the counter as you enter. Tea is served from midday into the evening and is presented to you alongside a choice of Japanese sweets. There is also the option to take yourself and your tea outside to enjoy it on the rooftop deck.
Fresh matcha being prepared at The TEA SALON "KISSA & Co."
The whole process is fascinating to watch
Matcha with a side of sweets is served!
The salon also plays host to a number of events featuring local craft artists, tea ceremony masters and Buddhist monks.
Aside from the Tea Salon the hotel also offers smart, affordable accommodation in a space that merges aspects of traditional and modern Japan.
Oyama Shrine sits in the midst of the hustle and busyle of downtown Kanazawa. While the shrine itself has deep connections to the history of Kanazawa, it also features something fairly far removed from traditional Japan. As one approaches the shrine from the street the first thing you see is a large gate designed and built by a Dutch architect using characteristics and architectural styles that draw influence from a variety of European and Asian religious themes. The first story of the unusual gate contains a mix of Japanese and Chinese influences, while the upper section once served as a lighthouse and is decorated with stained glass windows from Holland.
The gate to Oyama Shrine is unlike any other
The stained glass windows at the top are in a Dutch style
The shrine itself is dedicated to the first lord of the powerful Maeda clan
The gate was first used at the entrance to Kanazawa Castle, but was later moved to its current location. The shrine was also moved here from its original site, on Mt. Utatsu, where it was constructed in the late 1500s.
Speaking of gates, Kanazawa is also home to another rather unusual gate, one that greets visitors as they exit the main Kanazawa train station.
The Tsuzumimon Gate
The combination of the Tsuzumimon Gate and Kanazawa Station make for one of the most striking transport hubs in the country. The design of the two successfully blends modern aesthetics while respecting traditional ideas of Japanese design.The gate has become somewhat of a symbol for the city.
Its design is based on the form of a “torii” gate, which you would normally find at the entrance to a shrine marking the transitional space between the ordinary and the sacred. The two vertical pillars are also shaped to resemble “tsuzumi”, a type of drum used in Noh, a form of traditional Japanese theatre that has roots in Kanazawa. This is where is gets its name from – the Tsuzumimon Gate.
The train station behind the gate is also a building well worth checking out with its futuristic design resembling a type of spaceship. It also houses several art galleries and restaurants.
Kanazawa Umimirai Library
The Umimirai Library is a contemporary building designed by Japanese architects Kazumi Kodo and Hiroshi Horiba, completed in 2011. Upon completion of the building the two architects described it as “a simple place that resembles a forest filled with soft light and a feeling of openness reminiscent of the outdoors”. Sounds special? It is!
The Umimirai Library by K&H Architects has heads turning in design circles all over the world
The inside offers a wide-open space deigned and engineered to provide visitors with a bright and airy space perfect for reading
The library has a collection of over 200,000 titles to choose from
The walls are covered in tiny circular windows creating an ambience that’s unique and original
The library also doubles up as a space for the local community to relax and socialize
In 2012, the Umimirai Library was selected as one of the world’s 25 most beautiful libraries, and it’s not hard to see why. The building which is located on a grass plain has a distinct, futuristic design made up of 6,000 small circular windows that let just enough light in to fill the room with a nice, natural ambience. The windows have been designed not to let too much light in on a bright day, and not to reflect light when the sun is low in the sky, meaning one never feels uncomfortable or blinded by the sunlight. The library carries a collection of over 200,000 books, and also offers private rooms for working, social event spaces and exhibition space.
Ever heard of “Peel Art”? No, neither had we! That’s because it’s a unique approach to art born in Kanazawa, and as far as we can tell only practiced by one artist, based in Kanazawa!
Shunkou-san is an artist and café owner based along the city’s Saikawa River. She grew up in Ishikawa Prefecture, where she developed a passion for creating art using natural objects found in everyday life, this lead to her trademark work which is created using a variety of dried fruit and vegetable peels. She then went on to open a café where she displays her work for guests to interact with and enjoy.
This unassuming café is full of unusual surprises!
Shunkou-san’s art is unusual and makes for an interesting aesthetic
The café has a unique atmosphere to drink your herbal teas in!
The café serves a variety of herbal teas, and also offer workshops in creating “peel-art”, something which is perhaps unusual, but interesting and versatile none-the-less! Workshops (tea included) will set you back just 1500 yen. Please note though that the workshops can only take place when Shunkou-san is present in the café, otherwise it is only open for browsing and for tea!
Machi-Nori Rental bikes
With so much to see and do in Kanazawa, what better way to get around than on a rental bike? The compact lay out and size of the city lends itself to bicycle travel and the excellent public bicycle rental service offered by the city means you are never too far away from a bike rental station.
The city’s bike rental scheme goes by the name of Machi-Nori, and they offer several options for getting about town on two wheels, all of which are reasonably priced and easy to use.
The Standard Bicycle Sharing Option
This option is the most popular due to its low price. For just 200 yen you can use Machi-Nori bicycles as many times as you like in a day. Pick up your bike from over 20 “cycle ports” that are located around the city.
The One Day Rental Option
For a fee of just 900 yen you can use the same bicycle freely for a whole day (from 9am to 6pm). However, there are only 15 of these one day rental bicycles available and they can only be borrowed from the Machi-Nori Head Office, so you need to plan in advance to avoid them being fully booked out.
The Electric Hybrid Option
If you are planning to cycle all day, then you may want to consider taking an electric hybrid bike. There are eight electric bikes in total, so again it’s good to plan in advance if you would like to reserve one. These luxurious and comfortable rides will run you 700 yen for a half-day rental, and 1,400 yen for a full day rental. Again, these bikes can only be picked up from the Machi-Nori Head Office.
Machi-Nori will also provide you with free maps to help you plan your route for the day, these maps also detail where the cycle ports are located in and around the city. They also offer a luggage storage service for those who are traveling with suitcases or big bags. The Machi Nori Head Office is located approximately four minutes by foot from the main Kanazawa train station’s Easy Exit. Opening hours are between 9am and 7pm.
Finally, if you’re looking for a place to rest your head after a day exploring in the city, the merchant-house turned guesthouse Shiro is a great place to consider. Opened in 2014, this Meiji period (late 1800s) building now operates as a relaxed, simple yet stylish accommodation for visitors to Kanazawa.
The Meiji period townhouse that has been afforded a new lease of life!
The interior is simple yet relaxing
An open kitchen and reading room allow for comfortable downtime
Located just minutes from Kanazawa Castle, it features a small Japanese garden, open kitchen, tatami-floored resting area and a bookshelf full of books for you to browse!
They offer both dormitory style rooms as well as private rooms starting at 3700 yen per person per night.
Withing walking distance of the guesthouse are various attractions including Kenrokuen Garden, the Omicho Fish Market, Kanazawa Castle and a handful of shrines and temples. Other local amenities include a variety of cafes, restaurants and a public “sento” bathhouse.